by Kim Charlson
Ladies and gentlemen, it is a true honor for me to come before you for my first report as president of the American Council of the Blind. It's hard for me to believe that a year has gone by since our conference in Columbus, Ohio, and my incredibly exciting election as the first woman to serve as president of ACB. It has been a whirlwind of activity, travel, calls, committee meetings, and decision-making in collaboration with leaders to keep our organization moving forward on so many fronts.
I have come before you on this warm Sunday evening in July here in Las Vegas to offer my report to you, the thousands of men and women comprising our strong ACB family. Whether you are attending this conference and convention in person, or listening from across the nation and around the world on ACB Radio, you are all an important part of our dynamic and democratic organization. I want to publicly acknowledge that without your support and participation, there would be no American Council of the Blind.
ACB continues to address many issues and challenges of all types since last we gathered together. I'll cover the highlights and how we are dealing with them over the next several minutes.
First, I would like to deliver some well-deserved thank-yous. It is widely known that the everyday work of ACB is carried out by our small, yet highly dedicated professional and administrative staff working in our Minnesota and Virginia offices. Our executive director, Melanie Brunson; controller, Lane Waters; director of external affairs and policy, Eric Bridges; and "ACB Braille Forum" editor, Sharon Lovering, all work tirelessly to make our lives and the lives of blind and visually impaired people everywhere better.
And to our dedicated administrative and support staff – in the Arlington office, Francine Patterson, and Barbara LeMoine, who retired from ACB in February. In Minnesota, Lori, Nancy, Dee, and Chi, who left ACB in February after 13 productive years; you all keep the wheels turning and the gears oiled.
Thanks also to our contract staff – Tom Tobin, director of development; Jo Steigerwald, our grant writer; Joel Snyder, director of the Audio Description Project; Larry Turnbull, managing director of ACB Radio, and website administrator, Annette Carter. I extend to all of you a special acknowledgement and salute for your efforts. On behalf of the ACB membership, I thank you.
I also want to recognize and thank the 15 other members of the ACB board of directors and the members of the board of publications. I've worked hard to keep the board of directors busy while Denise Colley, the BOP chair, has kept that group active as well. In turn, both groups have made sure to keep us all on track with the issues and on our toes.
At the close of this convention, two directors, George Holliday and Janet Dickelman, will be stepping down as members of the board of directors. George will be turning his efforts to his professional responsibilities at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia and to advocacy with the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind. Janet Dickelman will not be leaving ACB service; she will be concentrating her efforts in serving as our hard-working convention coordinator, a huge job that she does incredibly well. Thank you to George and Janet for their service to the board and ACB. (Editor’s Note: After Kim’s speech, George Holliday decided to run for – and was elected to – a second term.)
In addition, I want to thank the members of the Board of Publications – Denise Colley, who has ably served as chair, Ron Brooks, and Doug Powell for their service. I want to recognize that Marcia Dresser will be wrapping up her third and final term on the Board of Publications. Also, Judy Jackson and Richard Rueda, who stepped down from their positions on the BOP earlier this year for personal and professional reasons. All of these individuals have made valuable contributions as members and leaders on the BOP, and I thank them for their service to ACB.
I can’t continue to recognize people without acknowledging the large group of leaders who steer and guide ACB’s over 40 different committees and task forces. The bulk of ACB’s work is done by these hard-working groups. We couldn’t get it all done without you. You all have my heartfelt personal thanks!
Finally, let me take a moment of personal privilege to recognize the help and support I receive from my family. My husband, Brian, is incredibly supportive. He lets me get away with not doing the dishes sometimes, or other chores, so I can be on a conference call or return phone calls or e-mail. I couldn’t do all that I need to do in this role without his support, and that of my life sister, Vicki. Thank you for making it possible for me to serve ACB as president and to stretch the hours in my day. I love you both!
As you know, in 2011 ACB commenced working on the problem of the inaccessibility of information on prescription drug labels with the introduction of H.R. 4087, the Accessible Prescription Drug Labeling Promotion Act. The original bill language was incorporated into S. 3187, the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act, which passed and became law in July 2012.
The bill language called for the establishment of a working group comprised of representatives of the blind and aging communities, along with pharmacies under the auspices of the U.S. Access Board. ACB was ably represented on this group by past president Mitch Pomerantz, as well as by Annette Carter, who represented CCLVI. The group developed a comprehensive "best practices" document for pharmacies to ensure that people who are blind or visually impaired have access to prescription drug labeling information. The National Council on Disability was also charged with coordinating an awareness campaign in cooperation with the members of the working group to inform the public of those best practices, as directed by the act. In addition, the Inspector General was to initiate a review in 18 months to assess the extent to which pharmacies are following the best practices and to what degree barriers to prescription drug container labels remain. I am profoundly disappointed to inform you that NCD has failed to promulgate an awareness campaign. In fact, over the past year the Council met exactly one time with representatives from the blind and low-vision communities and then only to ask for ideas on how to conduct outreach. To our knowledge, the Inspector General’s audit isn’t even in the planning stage. ACB will be reaching out to NCD to determine what it plans to do on behalf of blind and low-vision individuals on this crucial issue. I hope to have more positive information shortly about how these guidelines are helping to improve access and safety in this area.
Since I'm discussing access to prescription information, we can't forget the tremendous work being done by our attorneys, the queens of structured negotiations, Lainey Feingold and Linda Dardarian. Both of them send their wishes for a successful conference and convention and congratulate ACB on 53 years of advancing the rights of people with visual impairments. Let me spotlight Lainey and Linda's activities addressing access over the course of the past year.
Right before last year’s convention, ACB announced a structured negotiation settlement with Weight Watchers International to make its websites, mobile applications and print information more accessible and inclusive for its members and subscribers with visual impairments. Weight Watchers adopted the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines as its accessibility standard for both web and mobile applications, and has made substantial enhancements to its websites and mobile devices to meet this standard. Weight Watchers also strengthened its system for providing braille, large print, and audio versions of print information to members with visual impairments.
Weight Watchers worked with ACB and Weight Watchers members and subscribers with vision loss on these accessibility initiatives. I want to especially thank Alice Ritchhart, of Georgia, and Lillian Scaife, of California, for their work on this initiative as well. Now people who are blind will be able to take greater advantage of the wonderful tools and information that Weight Watchers offers. To further show their support to ACB, Weight Watchers is a 2014 topaz sponsor of the Recreation Zone. Thank you, Weight Watchers, for recognizing the needs of your blind members.
Now, in the area of prescription drug label information, there is much to report.
In March 2014, ACB and CVS/pharmacy announced a program to provide ScripTalk talking prescription labels for prescriptions ordered for home delivery through its online pharmacy, CVS.com. The ScripTalk labels provide a safe and convenient way to access information on prescription labels for individuals who are blind or visually impaired. The ScripTalk labels are free to CVS.com pharmacy customers who are blind. Customers can also obtain a free ScripTalk reader from En-Vision America that will enable them to listen to the information on the ScripTalk label.
This settlement was the result of ACB’s collaboration with CVS/pharmacy, the American Foundation for the Blind, and the California Council of the Blind. ACB commends CVS/pharmacy for taking steps to provide speech access to label information for customers with vision loss along with its willingness to assess methods to improve large-print labels and evaluate how it can effectively provide braille labels.
In June 2014, ACB announced a ground-breaking settlement with Walgreens, the nation’s largest drugstore chain, launching a nationwide program offering talking prescription devices to customers with visual impairments.
Walgreens is the first in the industry to offer its own exclusive talking prescription device, called the Talking Pill Reminder, at its retail locations nationwide. The device attaches to prescription containers and is provided free of charge with prescription medications that Walgreens dispenses to its pharmacy customers who are blind or visually impaired. The Talking Pill Reminder can be recorded to speak the information on the customer’s prescription medication label, and also has an audible alarm to remind patients when to take a medication.
The Talking Pill Reminder is available to customers of the over 8,100 Walgreens retail pharmacy locations in your communities and through Walgreens prescription mail service. The devices also are available in Walgreens drugstores for purchase for a retail price of $9.99 for people who are not visually impaired or do not receive prescriptions from Walgreens.
This initiative was the result of collaboration between ACB and Walgreens, the California Council of the Blind and the Illinois Council of the Blind. In addition, we have received confirmation that all Duane Reade pharmacy locations, primarily in New York state, will also have the free talking prescription labels for blind pharmacy customers. Duane Reade is owned by Walgreens and has over 250 locations.
More is happening in the effort to make sure people with vision loss have independent access to prescription information. ACB is part of a structured negotiation effort with Caremark to obtain accessible prescription information from that mail-order company, which we know impacts many blind federal employees and others. Lainey and Linda report that Caremark, connected to CVS but operating as a separate company, has been a solid structured negotiation partner and we hope to have something to announce on this before the end of the year.
Lainey and Linda are also working with other retail and mail-order pharmacies, including Rite Aid, on the accessible prescription issue.
In addition to accessible prescription efforts, Lainey and Linda continue to engage in other structured negotiations with ACB, its affiliates, and individuals with visual impairments. Discussions in various stages continue with Bank of America, Safeway, Charles Schwab, E*Trade, Denny's and WellPoint Health Insurance. WellPoint is a company that operates Blue Cross and Blue Shield franchises across the United States. As a result of structured negotiations, the company is offering alternative formats and accessible web and mobile experiences.
If you do business with any of these companies and want further information, or if you have an issue you think would be appropriate for structured negotiation, please contact either Lainey or Linda. The ACB national office can provide their contact information.